Special Session

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The Mississippi Senate ended its part of the special session Friday after passing a Department of Human Services bill, leaving the House to return to work next week.

The Senate's vote to adjourn came just moments after senators passed a bill authorizing DHS to stay in business beyond June 30, the end of the current budget year. At that point, the House had already left the Capitol with plans to return at 4 p.m. Monday.

The House earlier this week passed a separate DHS reauthorization bill that also would prevent 65,000 people from losing Medicaid coverage due to budget restraints.

Senate President Pro Tempore Travis Little, R-Corinth, said Friday that Medicaid was not included on the agenda of the special session called by Gov. Haley Barbour.

With programs ranging from food stamps to child-support collections, DHS affects thousands of lives.

"I think we were very responsible in dealing with it," Little said.

House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said earlier this week that Medicaid could be considered in the session. DHS workers now handle eligibility questions for people applying for Medicaid.

Only a governor can call a special session and set the agenda.

McCoy said he believes the Senate will be forced to return to the Capitol on Tuesday because the state constitution says one chamber can't leave for more than three days if the other chamber is in session.

"We don't want to have any kind of struggle with the Senate or the governor. We simply want to solve this," McCoy said Friday.

Senate leaders disagreed on the interpretation of the three-day rule.

Barbour spokesman Pete Smith was not immediately available to respond to Friday's developments.

The DHS bill passed by the Senate on Friday will be sent to the House Public Health and Human Services Committee.

Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, chairman of the committee, said there's "not a chance in Hades" that he'll consider a bill without Medicaid in it.

During the four-month regular session that ended May 9, House and Senate negotiators couldn't agree on a bill to keep DHS alive.

At Barbour's request, Senate leaders wanted to lift civil service protection from hundreds of DHS jobs. That would have given the governor the flexibility to fire or reassign workers. House leaders balked.

The bills that have passed in the special session don't change the civil service protection for workers. Both chambers must agree on the same bill before one can go to the governor.

The special session started May 19. Friday was lawmakers' 12th working day.

Both chambers passed a bill to make several changes on how civil lawsuits are filed, including limiting pain-and-suffering damage awards to $1 million in lawsuits against businesses or most people or $500,000 in medical malpractice cases.

The lawsuit bill was sent to Barbour Friday after the House disposed of a procedural motion that held it overnight. He's expected to sign it in the next few days.

The bills are Senate Bill 2005 and House Bills 11 and 13.